Clients and the “Poverty Mindset: What is the connection? Part I

Recently, I came across a blog about the association between client progression and the “poverty mindset.” The blog was entitled “Clients and the ‘Poverty Mindset'” written by Reeta Wolfson, CMSW. Wolfson states in the beginning of the article that “negative” financial thinking results from a ‘”poor”‘ relationship with money, which is facilitated by the poverty mindset. The poverty mindset encourages a disconnect to occur, which leads to an increase in behaviors such as avoidance related to any activities related to money and decreased effort to improve financial circumstances.

Wolfson continues to explain that someone with a poverty mindset “lives a life predominately without any thoughts of change, of improvement, or of creating different or better future.” She explains that those who live with a dominating poverty mindset is a lifestyle produced by a intergenerational component where behavior is modeled and passed down from one generation to the next.

As the blog continues, Wolfson makes the statement that a “poverty mindset is not confined to people living below the poverty line.” She describes how limitation is the foundation of the poverty mindset, which she describes as associated with reduced creativity, determination and initiative. Wolfson identities creativity, determination, and initiative as “prerequisites for sustainable long-term financial behavioral change.”

Wolfson identifies the following characteristics as barriers to long-term financial behavioral change:

  • An inherent message from the universe that this is as good as it gets: don’t ask for or expect more.
  • Feelings of hopelessness. Hopelessness closes the door to change — HOPE opens it.
  • Negative associations regarding anyone telling them what to do with their money or their lives.
  • Fear of losing benefits if increasing savings.
  • Concern for losing their relationship with friends and family should their personal and financial circumstance improve
  • Not believing or trusting in the potential to create a better financial future.”

Wolfson makes several rational and realistic points, but fails to quote any research to validate her points and global statements. She also fails to define core concepts she uses such as the “poverty mindset” and “poor relationship with money.”

In this series, I am going to explore the factors that surround poverty, what exactly the poverty mindset is, and how to encourage financial change with clients.

By Audrey Haven, LMSW
Staff Writer

***Update ***

A response from the author of the above mentioned article, Reeta Wolfson:

I am delighted to have initiated this conversation. By no means do I think I have the only or the best definition of the “Poverty Mindset” – which is why we opened the topic to our Financial Social Work students, graduates and the general FSW community as a contest and ended up with some excellent input and ideas which can be read at: A Community Discussion on the “Poverty Mindset” –

Next Thursday’s blog will address how to help clients overcome the “Poverty Mindset”. The blogs I wrote did not claim to be research based but were based on sixteen years spent creating Financial Social Work and having thousands of students take the FSW certification which includes 20 CEs from national NASW.


Our authors want to hear from you! Click to leave a comment

Related Posts

Subscribe to the SJS Weekly Newsletter


  1. Jack Carney Sr., DSW Jack Carney August 9, 2013
  2. Reeta Wolfsohn, CMSW Reeta Wolfsohn, CMSW August 9, 2013
  3. Jack Carney Sr., DSW jacarneysr August 9, 2013
  4. Cordell's Shallow August 10, 2013
  5. Jack Carney Sr., DSW jacarneysr August 10, 2013

Leave a Reply